All creatures great and small: The complex beauty of naming living things

In any natural history of the human species the invention of language would stand out as the preeminent trait.

It is impossible to imagine life without it. Language enables us to communicate, to facilitate learning, to plan, to develop a “theory of mind” and the tools of thought.

So tightly is it woven into the human experience that it’s scarcely given a second thought. We open our mouths and speak. We open a book and read.

We use it with such natural, innate ease it’s not hard to overlook the fact that language is a completely artificial construct consisting of sounds and symbols that we process effortlessly. Words, being the linguistic objects they are, are proxies for the things they represent. They are increasing in number exponentially and stored in the vast lexicon of the human experience. In that lexicon, names have a special role.

We name things to create order and make sense of our world and everything in it – to understand something as itself and also its relation to other things. We name countries, states, cities, street, mountains, rivers, planets, craters on the moon, distant stars, pets, boats. And we name all living things.

The classification of living things is one of the more arcane and scholarly branches of naming. It is one of the most overlooked, and one of the most beautiful.

THE ART OF NAMING

According to Jessica Leigh Hester in her truly fascinating article in Atlas Obscura, The beautiful complexity of naming every living thing, scientists go about naming much in the same way any other namer would, regardless of what they are naming. In fact, her article would serve as an excellent primer for any namer.

Like all namers, scientists have their own jargon and naming protocols. In their world they use “binomial nomenclature”, a naming system based on two words. Blatella germanica, for instance, is a cockroach; Homo sapiens are, as you know, humans.

It wasn’t always so neat and tidy. In 1758 a Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, was putting the finishing touches to the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, his encyclopedic work of taxonomy, when his attention fell on the European honeybee, known at the time in scientific circles as abdomine fusco, pedibus. Accurately descriptive as it goes – it means “furry bee, grayish thorax – it was a bit of a mouthful

Renaming the honeybee

He decided a more practical approach to naming was needed – the binomial nomenclature. The honeybee was renamed apis mellifera (honey bearing bee), a name it still goes by today in entymological circles.

The scientist’s approach to naming is reassuringly structured, as you would expect. But then Ms. Hester concludes her article with a quotation which must go down as one of the most lyrical and transcendent testaments ever made to a namer’s art. It is taken from German biologist Michael Ohl’s book, The Art of Naming. He writes:

“Part of the majesty and magic of a name is how it gives the reader or listener a firm, solid foundation from which to transport herself to a place she’s never been. Names nudge open portals to new parts of the world or the long-receded past as though they were secret incantations…mental images of prehistoric landscapes take shape at the sound of their names, and we feel we are among the initiated, the entrusted, the knowing.”

The beauty of language and the art and science of naming captured in a single paragraph.

 

 

Leonardo, Tesla and the genius syndrome of corporate naming

IN THE SUMMER OF 1974 a pregnant young woman was gazing at a painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Uffizi Gallery. At that moment she felt the baby kick and, so the story goes, Imelin DiCaprio decided, then and there, to call her first-born child Leonardo.

A nice story if you believe it. Her son, Leonardo DiCaprio, has certainly been blessed with a talent that has earned him fame and fortune. To what extent Leonardo da Vinci’s namesake can ascribe his success to his name has to remain the stuff of romantic speculation.

Mauro Moretti, the CEO of the Italian aerospace company Finmeccanica, has no doubts at all about the power of Leonardo’s name. He has decided to rename the entire company Leonardo in honor of the renaissance genius.

Mr. Moretti had a tough job ahead of him on his appointment in 2014. 

Finmeccanica was then a sprawling industrial company partly owned by the Italian government. He launched a dramatic restructuring plan to transform performance and upgrade the reputation of a company dogged by corruption.

By all accounts he has done a good job streamlining the company and unifying its multiple brands into a coherent organizational whole around a ‘one company’ brand strategy that fits the business vision of a more cohesive, homogeneous and efficient group focused on aerospace.

Mr. Moretti has talked openly over the last year about his intention to abandon the Finmeccanica name, which roughly translates as “Financial Mechanics”, for something more inspiring, something with “the sense of deep roots and a great future.” Obviously heavily pregnant with ideas about names, he received a metaphorical kick in the stomach while contemplating Leonardo da Vinci’s genius for invention and the future of Finmeccanica.

So, on January 1, 2017, Finmeccanica will become Leonardo SpA.

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“We looked for something that would reflect the history of our evolution in space and security,” Moretti said at a press conference in Milan’s Science and Technology Museum Leonardo da Vinci, which hosts a collection of the Italian master’s models and drawings. “Luckily we have this genius Leonardo. We think that this will be the basis of our future motto: genius at your service.” *

Mr. Moretti is said to be moving on to greater things and is now in the running for the post of Italy’s industry minister.

What will become of Leonardo? It remains to be seen what the company will do with its presumptuous new name and whether it can build a brand for the future beyond the backward-looking museum piece references of the Vitruvian Man and Leonardo’s sketches of machines.

Moretti had a much better name available to him in Alenia Aerospace, a division of the Finmeccanica group. Far too mundane, though, for a renaissance man on the move who wants to leave his personal stamp on the company.

Genius for sale.

It’s not the first time a company will have draped itself in the borrowed robes of a dead genius in hopes of reviving its fortunes. The names of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse and Albert Einstein have all been invoked in the cause of capitalism.

If the notion appeals to your conceit it is possible to license the Einstein name at einstein.biz for your business, albeit with stringent conditions.

And with some legitimacy there are many US utilities that use the Edison name; Southern California Edison, Consolidated Edison, Detroit Edison, Boston Edison and Ohio Edison, to mention a few, all operated happily together and independently under an original agreement in which Thomas Edison allowed electric utilities to use his patents if they used his name.

George Westinghouse, Edison’s great rival, has not been so lucky with his brand trustees. Westinghouse Electric once bestrode the industrial landscape of the world producing amazing technical inventions in defense electronics, power generation, refrigerated transport, nuclear engineering and so on. By the mid-1990s the company was a shadow of its former self, having diversified almost to the point of oblivion. In 1995 Westinghouse purchased CBS, the broadcasting company, and in a kind of ‘reverse brand merger’ morphed itself into the CBS Corporation in 1997.

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The Einstein licensing website

The company sold its remaining manufacturing asset, the nuclear energy business, to British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), along with rights to the Westinghouse name. BNFL, in turn, sold it to Toshiba in 2006 and it still operates to this day as Westinghouse Electric Company.

CBS also created a new subsidiary to manage the Westinghouse brand. What “managing” means in this case is licensing. The famous W logo, designed by Paul Rand in 1960, along with the Westinghouse name and the slogan “You can be sure…if it’s Westinghouse” is yours to use for a price. It has been licensed to a ragbag of upstart crows now called Westinghouse each hoping to be raised from obscurity by association with a genius (Westinghouse, the undead brand).

westinghouse-logo
For sale: one previous owner.

At the center of the power struggle between Edison and Westinghouse was the commercialization of electricity and the two different technologies used to transmit it from plant to user. Edison was a proponent of DC power (Direct Current) although he recognized its limitations; it was very difficult to transmit over distances without a significant loss of energy. He turned to a young Serbian mathematician and engineer whom he’d recently hired at Edison Machine Works for help. His name was Nikola Tesla.

Tesla accepted the challenge and set out to redesign Edison’s DC generators. The future of electric distribution, Tesla told Edison, was in Alternating Current (AC) —where high-voltage energy could be transmitted over long distances using lower current—miles beyond generating plants, allowing a much more efficient delivery system.

“Splendid” but “utterly impractical” was Edison’s verdict. Tesla was crushed and left Edison in 1885 to raise capital for his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. George Westinghouse was a believer in AC power and bought some of Tesla’s patents and set about commercializing the system to make electric light available to all.

Tesla went on to become celebrated as a ‘mad scientist’ showman, renown for his achievements and displays with electricity. Using his Tesla coil to conjure thunderbolts on stage he would enthrall audiences and speak like a sorcerer. Despite the fame he achieved in his lifetime, the name Tesla would be largely forgotten today were it not for another industrial genius of the 21st Century.

Tesla
Tesla: Electrifying

Elon Musk is the CEO and public face of Tesla Motors, the first new American auto company to turn profit in decades (the company was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, Elon Musk joined soon after it was incorporated).

Tesla Motors acknowledges its debt to Nikola Tesla and has drawn on the inspiration of his name and work to shape the Tesla brand into something beautiful and original with its own vision and brilliance. For Tesla Motors, the name was a starting point, not an end point.

And here’s the challenge with “Leonardo Strategy” of naming in general: such borrowed brands have a seductive appeal, they are chocolate clichés with creamy fillings, tasty but gone in a bite.

For Finmeccanica the Leonardo name can either delude the company into believing it’s branding work is done, that the brand comes as a complete ‘off-the-shelf’ package with the name, or, like Tesla Motors, the company can use the name as a starting point for its own renaissance in true tribute to a genius without equal.

Footnote: Leonardo DiCaprio’s first agent believed Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was “too ethnic” to work and, at first, refused to sign him unless he changed his name to Lenny Williams.

Lenny SpA Mr. Moretti?

* Financial Times: Finmeccanica turns to Leonardo for rennaisance.

Best Western and Westin – brand tales from the wild frontier

Best Western has always been a bit of a me-too brand.

The company’s recent attempt to fix its problematic name and confused economy brand image follows the well-trodden path of Marriott, Hilton and Holiday Inn with a ‘basic, plus, premium’ segmentation strategy.

But then there’s BW Premier Collection, Best Western Plus Executive Residency and – just for the millennials – two new concepts named ViB (Vibe) and Glo (Glow) — how are they supposed to fit in to our consciousness?

It’s still confusing, it has to be said, and oddly reminiscent of Oldsmobile’s panicky attempt to overcome its failing brand by pretending it didn’t exist and pouring money instead into models with names such as the Alero, Bravada and Firenza. But all credit to CEO David Kong — for the first time in the 69-year history of Best Western the company has really tried to address the problem of the Best Western brand.

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The name, as you might well imagine, has its origins in the American West, which is loosely defined as the territory west of the Mississippi River.

The company was founded after the Second World War when a network of independent hotel operators in California began making referrals of each other to travelers. The informal network eventually grew and in 1946 it was decided to formalize the arrangement. With a singular lack of imagination they named the new company ‘The Best Western Motels’.

Why ‘Best’? Most likely it had something to do with a chance meeting that took place 16 years earlier in a small town to the north of California in Washington State. Two hotel competitors found themselves having breakfast at the same diner in Yakima. They struck up a conversation and decided to band together and form an alliance, which they named ‘Western Hotels’.

The folks down in California were surely aware of Western Hotels when they were thinking about a name for their company. Given where they were operating, ‘western’ must have seemed a natural. Not to be outdone by Western Hotels they found what they assumed to be an easy way round that problem by going up the superlative scale –not just Western, but Best Western.

In 1964, Best Western bumped into the geographic limitations of its name when it decided to expand east of the Mississippi. Extending the same ‘territory as brand” logic the properties were named — you guessed it —  ‘Best Eastern’. It didn’t last long. By 1967 the Best Eastern name was dropped and all motels from coast-to-coast got the Best Western name and logo, a move that would substantiate its claim to be the “World’s Largest Hotel Chain” by the 1970s.

Western Hotels, meanwhile, had taken a different route to growth with service innovations such as the first guest credit card, a state-of-the-art reservation system and the first hotel to offer 24-hour room service.

westin
Positioned for global growth

With expansion into Canada in 1954 the company changed its name to Western International. And then, in what was a truly inspired rebranding exercise, Western International morphed its name into ‘Westin’ in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Westin Hotels & Spas is now a brand cornerstone of the Starwood Group. The addition of the Westin bird logo by Landor in San Francisco gave the brand a luxury caché that was much admired in the hotel industry.

Unlike Westin, Best Western never got to grips with the evolution of its brand as the business grew. It wasn’t until quite recently it actually came to understand that Best Western is a brand – albeit, a brand with baggage – and not just a name. I am reliably informed that, at one time not too long ago, a branding agency seriously suggested to Best Western that it build a brand around ‘Best’ and drop the western part. No takers at Best Western.

A hint of what might be ahead for the Best Western brand is the introduction of a BW monogram in the new, modernized Best Western logo. A good move although still too tentative. David Kong should have seized the opportunity and gone the whole hog with BW as the main hotel brand and corporate name and ring-fenced Best Western as its economy brand.

And what of ViB and Glo? One thing I do know about millenials – they don’t like being sold to, especially by their grandfather.

DuPont misfires with Chemours

I. E. du Pont de Nemours and Company. This impressively aristocratic name is better known as plain DuPont, the world’s fourth largest chemical company.

Founded in July 1802 as a gundowder mill by one Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, it supplied the Union Army in the Civil War and went on to specialize in the poylmers that made it famous.

dupont logo

Du Pont was born in Paris in 1771. His father, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, was a political economist who had been elevated to the nobility in 1784 by King Louis XVI, allowing him to carry the honorable de Nemours suffix, Nemours being a picturesque ‘commune’ in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.

Little wonder then the company should look fondly on Nemours as the name for the spinoff of its performance chemicals business, embedded as it is in the heritage of the company and the duPont family’s noble French origins.

Nemours was a natural, except that the duPont family had already endowed the name to The Nemours Foundation, a pediatric health system operating in the Delaware Valley and in Florida.

The problem was neatly side-stepped by the creation of Chemours, a sound-alike name that also invokes French place names à la Cherbourg, Chantilly, Chartres, Charmant, Chambery and Chinon.

ChemoursA nice idea, but it’s not at all what DuPont had in mind; it wants to be sure that people know the performance chemicals business is a performance chemicals business and has, therefore, declared Chemours be pronounced ‘Kem-oars’, with a ‘k’ for chemicals and not a ‘schh’ for château.

Sad. My mistake. I got carried away by the romance of it all. I just thought… a company with such a flair for naming its inventions – Vespel, Corian, Teflon, Freon, Mylar, Kevlar, Zemdrain, Nomex, Tyvek, Sorona and Lycra – might have been more inventive with an historic spin-off dedicated to “applying great chemistry to make a colorful, capable, and cleaner world.”

The old, old story of a new corporate name

Keysight LogoThe only interesting thing about the new Keysight Technologies name from Agilent is the weird familiarity of the story surrounding its development.

It’s like a tired, old Agatha Christie plot recycled over and over. Only the names of the characters have changed.

A corporate spinoff is announced: they need a name, one with a message–wait, so what do we stand for? It also has to be easy to pronounce and – watch out for those tricky translation issues – it can’t mean shriveled testicles or anything rude in Japanese!

It sounds easy; it turned out to be very hard, much harder than anyone imagined.

An internal multi-regional, cross-functional team is formed just to complicate things. Once again executives rummage for candidates in the HP heritage bin – Addison Technologies anyone? Lawyers in international markets can’t agree. A private investigator is hired to track down the owner of a domain name.

It finally gets down to a shortlist of candidates…and then the CEO nixes them all on his iPhone.

He doesn’t like anything? Quick, back to the drawing board!

“It’s really hard to just take a bunch of letters and put them together, and have somebody identify with them right away,” says client breathlessly after three months of turmoil. “I would definitely describe it as a wild ride, three months of insanity.” Indeed. Insane.

A new name is finally announced. A happy ending in this case. Phew! But such an unnecessary palaver.

Read the unabridged version here.

Thanks to the EEVBlog, here are a few possible alternative name candidates:

This is Shinola

This is Shinola

There was a saying where I came from about unfortunate people who are easily confused or taken in. “Graham can’t tell his arse from his elbow”, we’d say.

Americans have a pithier expression: “Wade can’t tell shit from Shinola.” The alliterative ‘sh…’ sound here adds an important degree of subtle memorability and sibilant symmetry.

Until recently I had no idea what Shinola was, but whatever it was I was instinctively sure I could distinguish it from shit.

Shinola, as it turns out, was an American shoe polish brand. Wikipedia reliably informs me that it was introduced in 1907 by Shinola-Bixby Corporation of Rochester, NY.

The -ola suffix for product names was all the fashion at the time thanks to the popularity of the Pianola, a player piano that possibly derived its name from the violin-viola relationship. In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company launched the Victrola gramophone. Galvin Manufacturing later introduced the Motorola car radio, a ‘Victrola’ for your motor, and the whole crapola naming trend ran its course soon after.

Shinola (add shine to ‘ola’) polished its last boot in 1960 when the company went out of business but its name now lives on as something more than a euphemism for something you step in.

Shinola has been reborn as a luxury brand.

Yes indeed. You are now urged to think of Shinola in the same way you think of Mont Blanc with its expensive pens and other luxury ‘lifestyle’ accessories you don’t really need.

The company behind Shinola, Bedrock Brands, was started by a founder of the Fossil brand of watches, Tom Kartsotis. Last year, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that Mr. Kartsotis commissioned a study in which people were asked if they preferred pens made in China that cost $5, the United States at $10 or Detroit at $15, and when offered the Detroit option, they chose it regardless of the higher price.

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And so a luxury brand was born, trading on the manufacturing prowess of a city that was once known as Motown, the Motor City. And its name is Shinola?

Shinola opened the doors of its flagship store in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood in July. The Shinola product line consists of an unlikely paring of watches, bicycles and leather goods, many of which are made in Detroit, or at least assembled in Detroit. Yes, you can buy Shinola shoe polish at$15 a can and, if the impulse takes you, there’s a “Rare American Flag” going for $15,000 in the ‘curated’ section its website. Add it to your cart.

All-in-all, Shinola leaves you with an odd, empty feeling. The product set has no brand focus. The faux authenticity of its story, straddling a “storied American brand, and a storied American city”,  is bizarrely schizophrenic. Shinola is by no stretch a ‘storied’ brand. What stories are told about Shinola apart from its association with shit? It is all off-the-mark marketing cliche and hype.

Detroit, on the other hand, could be a winning idea. Clint Eastwood’s raw, gritty Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler in 2012 “Halftime in America” hit exactly the right note.  It was an uplifting tribute to a great American city and a great brand.

The sentiment behind the Shinola brand tries to capture that same spirit but fumbles it. What have Detroit and Shinola got to do with each other?

Is the brand Detroit, is it Shinola, or is it something you just want to wipe off your shoes?

Super-sizing Santander

An unveiling ceremony in Manhattan’s Herald Square this week gave New Yorkers a first view of a gaudy red sign that bears the name of a financial services powerhouse.

It says, simply, ‘Santander’.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was there with Emilio Botin, Chairman of the Santander Group. It was an important occasion for Santander. Similar ceremonies took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Providence and Wyomissing, PA.

It marks it the end of Boston’s Sovereign Bank, acquired by Santander four years ago and, more significantly, the beginning of Santander’s presence in the US market. The red sign will soon go up above 700 branches of what was Sovereign Bank network in nine states in the northeast.

Goodbye Sovereign
Goodbye Sovereign

The global brand hegemony of the Spanish banking group is impressive to behold.

Those oddly anonymous strips of red actually bear the name of a wet, nondescript port city on the northern coast of Spain. Santander is derived from the name of a 3rd century Catholic martyr, Saint Emeterio. Over time it became Santemter, then Santenter and finally Santander (see Namedroppings).

The bank’s history begins in 1857, when Queen Isabel II signed a royal decree authorizing the founding of Banco Santander to capitalize on the trade boom between Spain and Latin America.

A huge acquisition spree has, quite literally, put Santander on the global map. Today it is the largest bank in the Eurozone by market value and one of the largest banks in the world in terms of market capitalization with 186,000 employees, 102 million customers and 14,392 branches worldwide.

In the UK those bright red signs have spread like kudzu on every high street in the land over the last decade. Santander snapped up several of Britain’s most prominent building societies, including Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, quickly building up a national network of more than 1,300 retail branches, each of which slot in cheerily between the local Waitrose supermarket and Thorntons candy store.

Not Bank of America
Not Bank of America

The virtue of the Santander name is in its very blandness. Pronounced ‘san-tan-DAIR’ (although it will probably become better known in the US as ‘SAN-tanda’) it could be anything. It certainly doesn’t sound like a bank. And after the financial turmoil of the last recession and the bailouts that’s a good thing. People are still wary of big banks.

Santander’s rise is the Darwinian way, especially in financial services. Brands ebb and flow like corks on the economic tide. In the US, financial giants Merrill Lynch, Wachovia and Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were swept away in the last recession.

If the UK is anything to go by Sovereign Bank will be just the first of several Santander acquisitions in the US on its way to prominence. It’s unflashy brand rooted in resolute consistency and customer focus has all the hallmarks of that other retailing giant that got the basics right.

Santander has the global scale, resources and corporate ambition to become the McDonalds of retail banking.

References:

Top 25 US bank changes its name to Santander today

Sovereign Bank Starts Over as Santander

When Express Means Less

The word ‘express’ come from the Latin expressus meaningsqueezed out’ (from exprimere to force out, and premere to press), as juice is expressed from an orange. 

Reference back to this definition will help to manage one’s expectations when encountering something named ‘express’ these days. In branding terms, express means something has been literally squeezed out of the deal.

Less
Less

The new IHOP Express in San Diego certainly looks different. There are no waitresses in sight for a start. You buy your meal at the counter and pour your own refills. The whole concept is designed to have you out the door in about half the time of a conventional IHOP. No tip required. What has been ‘expressed’ here is service.

If you’ve ever flown on a United Express aircraft you’ll be familiar with the routine of checking in your case before you board, enduring a noisy, bumpy flight in a cramped seat and then waiting for your case on the jet bridge as you anxiously check your watch for your connection time. What has been ‘expressed’ here is any vestige of comfort in the ‘friendly skies’.

As you race across the airport from your United Express flight to catch your connection you might have noticed the blue Best Buy Express vending machines.  What has been ‘expressed’ here is choice.

Holiday Inn started the whole ‘express’ concept in the early 1990s. As an “express” hotel, the focus of Holiday Inn Express is on limited services and standard amenities for business travelers and short-term stays. What has been ‘expressed’ here is any sense of the Holiday Inn brand (it had ‘holiday’ in it’s name for a reason).

Which is not to say these services don’t have any redeeming virtues. For the road warrior on a budget who wants to avoid any human interaction at all life could be lived quite happily, if somewhat bleakly, in an Express World.

For the rest of us it just helps to understand that ‘express’ in a name does not necessarily mean quicker or cheaper or more convenient. Just less.

From A to Zeneca, a brief history of corporate naming

I’ve always felt a mild professional antipathy toward Zeneca. For me, it was the coinage that tipped corporate names into the abyss of synthetic anonymity.

It’s got to such a point now that it’s hard to distinguish a pharma company from the drug it makes. Try sorting these out: Actavis, Actos, Advaxis, Alimta, Amalthea, Anavex, Atripla – companies, drugs or the moons of Jupiter?*

Then I found this nugget buried in a Daily Telegraph article raking over of the ashes Accenture, Consignia and other weary corporate naming controversies.

Nothing rude or silly
Nothing stupid, funny, or rude and devoid of meaning

“The company that started the fashion for new, made up names was Zeneca, now AstraZeneca, the biosciences company split off from ICI in 1993. Leading consultants still view it as the best example of a name change.

Sir David Barnes was its first chief executive and is now a non-executive director. His inspiration was Kodak, a name that was memorable phonetically but had no associations with other companies.

Barnes said: “There is an advantage in being alphabetically at the top or bottom of lists, A or Z. I asked Interbrand to find a name that was phonetically memorable, of no more than three syllables and didn’t mean anything stupid, funny or rude in other languages. A new name also allowed us to instill a new company culture.”

Barnes paid about £50,000 for the name and did not spend anything on advertising: ‘We just sent out lots and lots of press releases every time the company did anything. Thanks to the press it soon caught on’.”

In truth, Zeneca was a latecomer to the ‘made-up corporate name’ party.

As the reporter would have discovered, had he done his homework, the trend started much earlier. In 1961 The Haloid Photographic Company changed its named to Xerox and gave the world a corporate name that looks totally unpronounceable. Then there’s the Allegis storm that engulfed United Airlines in 1985.

But what is notable about Zeneca is the blithely deliberate meaninglessness of the name.

There is something endearingly Colonel Blimp-ish about Sir David’s no nonsense approach here. Not for him the tenuous, tortuous semantic acrobatics of Syngenta (“derived from Greek and Latin origins: together with people”) or Novartis (“from the Latin words novae artes meaning new skills”). No mucking about, just make one up – nothing stupid or rude in other languages and just three syllables.

Of course, this was in the pre-Internet and SEO days when there was some an advantage to be alphabetically positioned in directories and the media had not yet turned corporate naming in to a blood sport.

Contrast the Daily Telegraph’s coverage above with the recent outraged headlines over Hibu, the new name for the Yell Group: “Chief Executive admits new name is meaningless”.

How times have changed.

*Actavis – a pharmaceutical company; Actos – a diabetes drug; , Advaxis – a biotechnology company;  Alimta – a lung cancer drug; Anavex – a life sciences company;  Atripla – an HIV treatment drug. Amalthea is a moon of Jupiter;

“The name game”. The Daily Telegraph. 14 January 2001

Why Advizent, Aspiriant and Fortigent are so Deficient as names

In spite of its deliberate “me too” play on Lucent, or maybe because of it, the arrival of Agilent Technologies opened up a rich new naming seam for imitators to mine.

And they have been busy. Here’s a few examples of the genre provided by Igor, the naming and branding company:

Acquient, Aquent, Aspirient, Aviant, Axent, Axient, Bizient, Candescent, Cendant, Cerent, Chordiant, Clarent, Comergent, Conexant, Consilient, Cotelligent, Equant, Ixtant, Livent, Luminant, Mergent, Mirant, Navigant, Naviant, Noviant, Novient, Omnient, Ravisent, Sapient, Scient, Sequant, Spirent, Taligent, Teligent, Thrivent, Versant, Versent, Viant, Vitalent and Vivient.

Now, courtesy of the investment advisory industry, three new names join the list: Advizent, Aspiriant and Fortigent.

Fortigent

In an admirably measured response given the dreadfulness of the names, David Placek of Lexicon Branding is quoted in trade magazine RIABiz as saying the trend towards such coined names is all wrong.

“Those [names] that are so coined are less efficient,” he says, particularly given that financial firms want the name to engender trust.”

Igor is much less reticent about the trend it blames for establishing “a major school of bad naming: the ‘unique empty vessel’.

“These names are not part of an elegant solution”, it blogs. “They are the seeds of a branding nightmare.”

“This type of name is arrived at because of the lust for a domain name, consensus building and as a shortcut to trademark approval. At some point in the process marketing left the room, and nobody seemed to notice. And while they may technically be unique, it’s at the level of a snowflake in a snow bank.”

Quite so.